We’re more than a week into our coverage of the grass, and I’m here to help close it out with a Tale of the Tape between the Jackie Bradley and Joc Pederson, the 38th and 41st ranked players in Bret’s dynasty outfielder rankings.
After Bradley sputtered to a .189 batting average in his 2013 cup of coffee and followed it up with a sub-Mendoza line performance over 423 plate appearances in 2014, it was fair to wonder if Bradley would ever hit enough to make his glove worth playing every day. He’s hit .262 in the two seasons since, answering many of those questions. When I dug in, I was surprised to discover how similar his 2014 and 2016 campaigns were; Bradley’s batted ball mix is almost identical, his quality of contact is slightly worse, and his swing and contact rates haven’t changed much. The only significant difference seems to be Bradley’s focus on yanking the ball and the resulting favorable batted ball mix on the balls he pulls. Pederson’s batting average trajectory has been similar. After hitting a paltry .210 in 2015, his first full big league season, Pederson batted .246 in 2016. Whether or not Pederson can repeat a batting average in that range largely depends on his ability to improve against same-side pitching, and if he can’t, the Dodgers’ willingness to hide him to the extent they did in 2015. Pederson owns a .178 batting average against southpaws so far in his major league career, almost 60 points worse than he’s been against right-handers. I’ll take Bradley until I see Pederson close this split, even though I emerged from this research feeling like the real Bradley—at least as it pertains to batting average—is somewhere between the new and old versions. Advantage: Bradley
Even as Bradley seemed incapable of getting on base with his bat, he was able to control the strike zone enough to maintain a substantial spread between his batting average and on-base percentage. He’s sitting on a 9.2 percent career walk rate, and with steady chase and swing rates that are better than league average, there’s not much reason to believe the on-base ability will dip. Pederson is one of the most patient hitters in the game. His 41.4 percent swing rate in 2016 was 23rd lowest among players with as many plate appearances. Pitchers have been hesitant to throw the ball in the zone against him since his arrival, perhaps trying to prey on the fact that he’s more aggressive out of the zone than in it, or perhaps concerned about the damage he can do with strikes to hit. The result has been a 14.9 percent career walk rate for the young Dodger, a number that more than makes up for the batting average difference between him and his east coast counterpart. Advantage: Pederson
I mentioned Bradley’s emphasis on pull side power above. It’s an approach that’s helped many a major leaguer unlock thump in recent years, and certainly a good strategy for Bradley given his home park. That change helped Bradley hit 26 bombs in 2016, raising his hilariously low and obviously unsustainable 1.1 percent HR/FB rate in 2014 to 18 percent in the process. Even if I thought he could repeat that home run total (I don’t), he’s no match for Pederson, who’s cleared 25 dingers in each of his first two seasons. Pederson’s exit velocity and batted ball distance statistics substantiate him as one of the league’s best power hitters. Advantage: Pederson
I’ve already offered up my thoughts on Bradley’s 2016 run and RBI contributions. Short version: he significantly outperformed any reasonable expectation of what a down-the-order hitter should be able to accomplish, largely due to the fact that the Red Sox scored more runs than all but seven teams in the past decade. He should hit in the middle third more consistently that he did in 2016 going forward, but the Red Sox project to be more good than great in Anno Papi 1. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Bradley lose 20 percent of his contextual stats, even with everything else held constant. That still might be good enough to best Pederson, who has the same bottom-third of the lineup concerns and the aforementioned platoon issues on a roster with viable options to take those at-bats against lefties. This really boils down to playing time. If you think the Dodgers are going to limit Pederson, the answer is Bradley. If you think they’ll let him try to figure it out, trusting that he can at least get on base via ball four, the answer is Pederson. Advantage: Pederson
Joc swiped 87 bags in the three seasons that saw him rise from High-A to Triple-A. That he’s only stolen ten bases in nearly 300 major league games is the most disappointing aspect of his transition from top prospect to entrenched big leaguer, especially since his on-base ability has afforded ample opportunity. It’s probably time to accept that the speed just isn’t going to be part of his game as a Dodger, and that getting to double digits is a bonus, not a baseline. Bradley stole a career high nine bases in 2016, and he too should be projected for a total in the high single digits. In the absence of any other separating criteria, I’ll give the slight edge to the legs that are two years younger. Advantage: Pederson
Pederson missed three weeks after running into a wall and hurting his right shoulder last summer. His .260/.380/.520 triple-slash after returning suggests there’s nothing to worry about in the long term. Bradley hasn’t spent any time on the major-league disabled list. Advantage: Draw
I’m nearly certain that the 2016 iteration of Bradley is the best version we’ll see. Even though he’ll play 2017 at 27 years old, there’s nowhere left to project growth. For the contextual reasons I stated above and because I doubt he can get to 20 homers with any consistency, this category is a clear win for Pederson. It’s not hard to imagine Pederson improving enough at the dish to force a move into a run-producing role in the thick of the National League’s second best lineup. To top it off, he has the power potential to clear 30 big flies per year through his prime. Don’t take my word for it: PECOTA’s 90th percentile outcome for Pederson is 98/34/101/10/.263, which thoroughly outclasses Bradley’s 79/20/77/8/.283. Advantage: Pederson
My stated preference is to weigh upside heavily as a differentiator, so it’s probably no surprise that I’m siding with Pederson here. Though all categories except home runs are close at present, Bradley seems destined to be a streaky middle class option, while you can still dream on Joc taking a step forward into the position’s upper tiers.
And the winner is… Joc Pederson.
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